Sunday, June 29, 2014

Favorite Days in the Village

My two favorite days when we're in Argeles-sur-mer are Sunday and Saturday, in that order.

Sunday is the essence of leisurely. The streets are almost deserted most of the day, except for early morning when one or two bakeries, one or two grocers, and usually only one butcher are open. From late morning on, if you didn't stock up on what you need for lunch or dinner, you may be out of luck. Most restaurants are not open either, except for summer season when many of the beach or port places have extended hours.

As you can see in the photo on the left, there's almost no one on Rue de la Republique, one of the three main streets of centreville, save for a black-and-white street cat.

In contrast, Saturday is the busiest of the twice-weekly marche days - a combination farmer's and flea market with an abundance of merchants peddling sausages, olives, cheeses, seafood, spices, flowers, jewelry, clothing, books, candles, sewing supplies and other notions.

We tend to see many of the people we know as we make the 'circuit' - Barbara at her bookstore, the 'brownie lady,' Miloud the artist, Joel the olive guy, the bijouterie owners where we bought our rings, La Noisette proprietor Laurent, Annie of the framing shop, and an assortment of visiting friends, and friends of friends, who are in ASM for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

One of our favorite pastimes is to snag a street-side table at La Noisette so we can people-watch: observing not only the merchants nearby but especially the variety of men, women, children, and dogs who pass by, sometimes almost elbow-to-elbow during July and August when ASM becomes the 'camping capital of Europe,' thanks to one of the best and largest beaches on the Med.

After the controlled chaos of the Saturday marche, Sunday is a welcome respite to read, take a nap, watch Zakaria on CNN or an old movie on DVD, maybe go for a long walk, weather permitting (maybe get rid of the snails - http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.fr/2014/06/jeepers-creepers-or-anyone-for-escargot.html), maybe even get some writing done ... blogs, novels, newsletters, magazine features.

Oh, I like the weekdays in Argeles-sur-mer as well. They still have a casualness to them. After all, this is an 11th-century village that has not yet been fully engulfed by the frenetic work-and-shop mentality of the 21st century.

Jeepers Creepers ... or Anyone for Escargot?

I had grabbed my camera and headed out the back door to take photos for a different blog, yet to be written, and decided to quickly take a shot of the lovely rose on the bush we had planted outside Donna-Lane's office (which doubles as the 'snore room').

Behind the bush, I spotted a rather large snail sliming his way up the window.

How cute.

So I called to D-L to come out and see.

As we were admiring the snail's ultra-leisurely pace, I glanced around and realized there were more snails. A lot more!

There were several over to the side of the window, a couple of them racing along the bottom track toward the other window, which was open to the office/bedroom. Where the heck were they all coming from?

Then I noticed about 20-30 snail shells ... including several very-much-alive snails ... in the base of the large red pot holding the rose bush.

I did not realize D-L had dumped a bunch of shells in that pot. (To keep local street cats from peeing in the soil, apparently.)

Wait, I was aware she had placed another 15-20 shells in a small, bowl-shaped stone on the patio, which is adjacent to the other bedroom and the dining area. (And where there are no street cats.) Dash in to check. Sure enough, ambling escargot there too.

She had purchased the 'decorative shells' on the marche the day before, no longer willing to wait for me to find the colored stones she suggested we put in the stone. (Yes, I've looked in more than one store. Think I spotted some at the garden centre when I was buying the rose bush, but of course she hadn't yet mentioned the stones.)

We might have been inclined to eat the snails - there are certainly enough for a meal - but D-L is allergic to mollusks and I've never eaten anything that resembles an alien. So we'll gather them up and take them down to the riverbank later today.

Donna-Lane has apparently written a 'dueling blog' - you'll see it soon at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/.

By the way, in case you were wondering, here's the rose.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Dream Fulfilled

Before we left Geneva for Argeles-sur-mer, Scooby Two got to fulfill a lifelong dream. (Hey, it hasn't been that long a life, but nonetheless ...) -- he got to see the famous Jet D'Eau fountain at Lac Leman.

SD2 encouraged us to walk all the way out to the end of the concrete pier where the Jet D'Eau spews 132 gallons of water per second at a speed of 200 kilometres per hour to a height of more than 450 feet. We managed to not get soaked. (Along the way, we heard at least seven different languages spoken by other visitors ... none of them 'dog' or 'cartoon.')
From there we went to the American Food Avenue, and stocked up on Orville Redenbacher Cheddar Popcorn, Chewy Chips Ahoy, molasses, and other goodies we cannot get in the south of France.
Of course, before we left Switzerland, 'Two' made sure he stopped and smelled the roses. (Can you see the bee under the blossom?)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Getting There is Half the Fun?

  

Getting into Russia , even for a simple one-week tourist visit, was no simple task. It's the first country I've ever been to that required advance paperwork. (Not counting applying for a work permit for Canada, not quite the same, and actually a little easier to get permission to stay there for a year or so.)

Russia requires a visa, which must be obtained through the Russian consulate. Before you can even apply, you must have a formal "invitation" from someone such as a travel agency, which technically has responsibility for you when you are in the CIS. The invitation documents contain reference numbers required for the visa applications.

We also needed proof of medical insurance, which I do not currently have (no, I did not sign up for Obamacare ... didn't even go near the website). We bought a couple of inexpensive policies which also provided travel insurance in case the trip didn't happen for some reason.

In my case, as an American citizen, the consulate I had to apply through was in Washington DC. For D-L, as a Swiss, through Geneva. My online application form was longer than hers and the fee was higher. (Call it the penalty for being an American.) Indeed, the visa fees ended up exceeding the cost of my airfare!

After considerable searching on the web, I located what seemed to be a reliable third-party service to help expedite the application.

Since the Russia visa had to be pasted into our passports by consulate personnel, I had to ship my passport with the application document. However, because I would be traveling from the US to Europe while my passport/visa was in process, I had to get a second, temporary US passport in Dallas.

The online form asked almost the same information as when I applied for a Secret clearance in the US -- including parents' names and their places of birth, a list of all the countries I've visited in the past 10 years (Canada, Mexico, UK, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Dubai, etc.) and dates, and questions such as did I have training in explosives. (US visa applications, I'm told, ask foreigners if they are a terrorist! Wonder if they've ever had a 'yes' answer to that one?)

The biggest challenge, surprisingly, turned out to be paying for the processing service. They required a money order or cashier's cheque in US dollars, and the bank in France, where we live much of the time, could do neither. Fortunately, the service could accept a wire transfer, which I did from a US account.

We were scheduled to fly to Saint Petersburg on May 27, and every day we got closer and our visas had not arrived we got a bit more anxious that the trip might have to be called off. Then, about 10 days before our flight, our passports and visas showed up in Geneva, one after the other.

Our time in Saint Petersburg was wonderfully amazing, and I'll share some of the experiences and photos over the next few days.

D-L has pre-empted me in several blog posts about the trip starting on Jun 3: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2014/06/a-clock-like-no-other.html. I'll try not to duplicate too much.

Friday, June 6, 2014

At the Mercy of an Electrical Jolt

This is one of our "dueling blogs," though it's not quite fair because Donna-Lane already posted hers and I've read it.

Today is our last day in Geneva (been here more than a month, aside from 8 days in Russia) before we head down to Argeles-sur-mer as early as we can Saturday morning. That means not only packing - and we have more to pack because we have the car with us and are not limited to what we can carry on the train - but also getting as many things done as possible. The timing of the day was dictated by a couple of phone interviews I had scheduled, so we had a "window" of time to complete multiple projects and errands in between the end of one interview at 1000 and the other at 1900.

Finished the interview, grabbed the video camera bag, including wireless microphone and attachment so I could "shoot" D-L reading from her novel, Murder in Geneva, at the location in Champel where a main character was burned at the stake (a few hundred years ago, not recently), and backed the car out of the garage.

We opened the gate, turned the key, and ... the engine would not 'turn over.' The more I tried to start the car, the less responsive it became. Fortunately, a neighbor had jumper cables. The engine still wouldn't kick in. The neighbor went to call another neighbor who is a mechanic, and his wife went to fix us some coffee.

I was thinking the day of errands would be wasted trying to get a new battery or, worse, an alternator. Might even have to stay in Geneva an extra day or three. Fortunately, we were not in a hotel costing 150 euros a night.

D-L is not a big fan of cars to begin with, and even I was starting to think the bus and train were looking awfully good. At least someone else had to deal with mechanical breakdown issues. I truly hate car problems because I feel rather helpless to solve them without going to an expert - at considerable time and expense.

While everyone had scattered, I decided to try the jumper cables one more time. (Hey, I'm a hopeful optimist.) Re-hooked them (positive to positive, negative to ground - my dad and brother Doug had always taught me). Not much reaction at first, but I detected 'encouragement' from the battery. Then, it started! There was hope of getting errands done after all.

I sat there with my foot on the clutch, running the engine to charge the battery. The neighbor brought the coffees, and Donna-Lane and I sat in the idling car, sipping strongish European coffee, hoping it truly was a battery problem and we wouldn't get stuck somewhere on the 7-hour journey to Argeles the next day. Or even somewhere in downtown Geneva today.

We drove up the hill to the recycle centre in Corsier Village and dumped bottles and plastic, leaving the engine running to keep juicing the battery. Drove back down the hill to the house to return the recycle bin, and then came the moment of truth - we turned the car off and tried to start it again. Voila! It started ... and every time thereafter for the rest of the day.

What might have been a frustrating day turned into a very pleasant afternoon with a couple of surprises along the way ... such as walking out almost to the Jet D'Eau and taking photos with ScoobyTwo, something we have talked about the last couple of trips to Geneva but never were able to fit in.

One of the things I love about D-L is her sense of adventure. Most times when I come up with a spur-of-the-moment idea, such as let's walk out on the jet d'eau pier (which has no guard rails, so you could easily stumble and fall in the water, onto a sailboat, or on the rocks), she often responds, 'Why not.' Occasionally her response is, 'You go ahead and I'll watch,' such as my intent to go skydiving in Spain.

The car is packed with clothes, books, papers, electronics, and food we cannot get down south (such as a dozen bags of a wonderful muselix-and-dried-fruit cereal). Hope it starts in the morning, cuz I sure don't want to unpack. Looking forward to getting home and staying there for awhile.